Kirsten Neuschäfer: Making waves and setting records

Photo: Facebook/Golden Globe Race

Far from the glamour of a glittering awards ceremonies, which bring together the who’s who of global sport, Kirsten Neuschäfer finds solace in the vast expanse of the ocean, a place where the only spotlight comes from the sun.

She’d far rather be all alone on her beloved boat, Minnehaha. But the South African sailor has had to force herself to become accustomed to international attention after winning the formidable 48,000km Golden Globe Race (GGR).

Not only did she become the first female winner of a round-the-world sailing race after almost eight months at sea, but she did it solo, using no modern navigational equipment as per the race rules – and even rescued a fellow contestant on the way.

Now she’s been nominated for a prestigious Laureus Sports Award in the Action Sportsperson of the Year category. Of the nomination, she simply says she’s “honoured” and is “in awe” of her fellow nominees. Describing the response since she crossed that finish line in France in April 2023: “The response has been humbling.”

Currently in the USA, Neuschäfer spoke to about how her life has changed in the last 11 months.

“I’ve been travelling a lot, sharing my story with those who have asked me to, and trying to digest the immensity of experiencing the Golden Globe Race and of finding my feet on land again,” she explained.

“I went from focusing full-time over a period of four years on successfully following through the project of racing and winning the GGR, to dealing with a lot more public interest in my story than I would ever have expected. I’ve gone from being a usually very private and preferably anonymous person, to trying to honour the public as much as they have honoured me with their support and interest.”

Taking pride in preparation

Speaking about what she’s most proud of after pulling off such a monumental feat, Neuschäfer doesn’t look back on the victory or even the daring rescue, not even becoming the first woman to achieve the win. For her, it’s all about what went in before she even got to the start.

“I’m proud of the meticulous preparation of the boat,” she said. “One other person – Eddie Arsenault – and I did 98 per cent of all the work with our own hands and on a small budget.

“We did the best work we could – we took no shortcuts, we spared no expense, and I believe we did a better job than even a professional yard might have done. Doing as much as I could with my own hands was one of the best things in being sure the boat and I were well prepared. It was a huge undertaking for just two people. At times it seemed impossible, but we did it, and we did it well. It is said that a race is often won before the boat leaves the dock.”

Motivated by challenge

Hailing from Gqeberha in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, Neuschäfer is no stranger to solo adventures. Before taking on the Golden Globe Race, apart from numerous sailing ventures, she cycled 15,000km down the African continent from Europe to South Africa on her own.

“The challenges were very different,” she explains. “The dangers, difficulties, the preparation, the budget. What they do have in common though is adventure and the love of challenge and the unknown.”

That desire for the unknown hasn’t got Neuschäfer planning her next challenge just yet though. For now, she’s still missing the simple life out at sea.

“I miss, above all, being so disconnected from modern communication, and disconnected from the internet and social media. I miss privacy and solitude. I miss Minnehaha. “

“I miss being so close to the ocean, to nature, the simplicity of life with one simple goal each day: make my boat glide through the water as fast as I can, keep her safe, be observant, read the weather, do my best at one of the things I love doing most: sailing.”

Credit: SportsBoom